I don’t have cable television but fortunately I still get my recommended USDA pop culture dosage by watching at other people’s houses. The ability to watch cable television in such a manner is akin to enjoying other people’s babies. You can ooh and ahh and make corny cutesy noises and marvel at how “great” they are but then you can go home directly afterwards and sleep in the quiet serenity of your own place and not have to worry about getting up at 2 am to warm milk or change diapers or wipe asses. It’s the Principle of Part Time Enjoyment without the drawbacks. I don’t have that ridiculously overpriced cable bill while still enjoying oodles of televised dreck.
Something commenter Sono wrote yesterday triggered a thought after I watched a recent episode of A&E TV’s grueling-to-watch but popular “Hoarders” on Saturday. For those not familiar, Hoarders is a reality show which chronicles the lives of publicly-diagnosed “hoarders,” individuals who shamefully fulfill the show’s “victim of the week” role in its episodic portrayals. Each program is presaged by a slide that summarizes the mental affliction tormenting the miserable souls who entertain us for interspersed hour-long bites of viewing “pleasure.” This is the obligatory “public service” portion that seeks to offset the ensuing voyeuristic spectacle.
While watching this show, I sense that there is an underlying attitude of condescension on the part of the family members, friends, and “normal” television viewers in regards to the spotlighted hoarding subject of the week. This self-deluded pity we feel is masked behind the sensible veneer of concern and head-shaking disgust. We assume the air of disconnected superiority as we witness in amazement as the cameras lead us through the living quarters which are invariably overwhelmed with filth and garbage and logic-defying clutter we can’t fathom in our tidy minds. When we feel pity, we feel superior and thus privileged in our own smarmy boastful manner. We announce, “Oh my God, how do people live like that, what is wrong with them?” The levels of emotional expression triggered by the Fall of the Hoarder makes no sense. Family members routinely break down in tears when confronted with the abject horror of their mother’s or sibling’s metastasized hoarding gone terribly awry.
The predominant civilized view seems to be that hoarders are to be pitied while simultaneously assisted out of their dilapidated surroundings, but sitting in our comfortable living rooms, we fail to realize that modern man is, at nature, a hoarder. Isn’t he? In contrast to our primitive cave-counterparts, our modern incarnation is an uncontrollable hoarder.
If nomadic prehistoric man watched our current breed of consumerist, materialistic culture splayed across a television screen, wouldn’t he feel the same sense of disgust at our exaggerated sense of gathering and accumulating? Wouldn’t he pity this burdensome world we’ve erected around the presumed establishment of spiritual and physical hoarding? Psst…we delight in our own measured sense of hoarding. We call it culture and progress because it’s supposedly housed within the confines of good taste and restrained sensibilities. Prehistoric man would guffaw at our drive to build fixed structures in which we to store our multiplying possessions and enslaving trinkets of culture. (Special debt of gratitude to George Carlin, of course)
In fact, if we closely examine the hoarding definition as supplied by A&E’s show, Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary, we see that it is rife with value judgments and relative measures of perspective. Might that definition not be used to describe our modern ownership fixations here in our 21st Century junkyard?
“Hoarders” is about us, about our civilization; it highlights pockets of it where it’s gone mad, but what exactly are frenzied hoarders who live in piles of collected squallor if not us, writ compactly. If our possessions are dispersed logical and orderly, or messy and nonsensically, what honest distinction can we make between the two?